Stephanie Lynn Martin, despite her devout Southern Baptist upbringing, was reborn as a sultry stripper and calendar girl. William M. Busenburg was a good-looking wannabe living his own lies. They came together in an explosion of violence and sex. Then they decided there was only one thing missing from their romance: murder.
On January 11, 1995, deputies outside Austin, Texas, found a mutilated body laid across a cold campfire—head destroyed, hands cut off, skin singed by the flames. In less than three days, they had the kill zone: a small apartment, where shy Christopher Hatton was shot at point blank range in his bed.
Within days, Martin and Busenburg were under arrest and savvy prosecutors learned the ugly truth behind the senseless slaughter of Busenburg’s friend—how twisted fantasies of murder fueled the couple’s lust and led to the unspeakable crime, and how they both tried to cover up their heinous deed . . . until they finally ran out of lies.
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The wind chimed and its music was sweet as it swept over the ears of Travis County park ranger Michael Brewster. Brewster stood silently at the front gate of Pace Bend and gazed at its cedar and oak trees. He loved his park. It was a place that protected and nurtured him.
On Wednesday, January 11, 1995, his park had been good to him. It had allowed Brewster to relax for nine and a half hours, as he'd sold only twenty park-entry permits. Only one other person, a maintenance man, had worked in the park that day. It couldn't get much deader than that.
With just thirty minutes to go before time to close the park for the night, Brewster decided to take a patrol through Pace Bend. Slowly he drove, his eyes and soul relishing the quiet of the slipping sun.
Five minutes later, lights flashed on his windshield from a white van trying to signal him. Pulling into a cove, Brewster climbed out of his truck to walk over to where Chuck Register was stepping out of his van. His three- year-old son remained in the passenger seat. At six feet two inches, Register towered over the shorter but equally handsome, dark-haired, young park ranger. "I've seen something that I think is a dead body," whispered Register.
Here we go, thought Brewster, he's going to take me to another dead deer. In his mind, Brewster rolled his eyes. The rangers constantly got those kinds of reports — dead body, pile of bones. It always turned out the same — pile of deer bones.
"I don't really know if it's a man or mannequin."
Brewster listened closer. That didn't sound like a deer being described. Still, he wasn't worried. Someone had probably just dumped something.
"There was hair on the legs."
Brewster stared Register in the eyes. "Tell me how to get there."
Register's directions were too vague for the ranger to follow. "I need you to lead me to the site," he said.
"I don't wanna go back." Register looked at his son in the van.
"It's starting to get dark," said Brewster. "If you don't lead me to the scene, then it probably won't be found before sunset." Pace Bend stretched across 1,500 acres of rugged hill country. "And we'll all be wondering if there's a dead body in the park."
Register got back into his van and led Brewster toward Kate's Cove. As Brewster drove alone in his vehicle, he mulled over Register's words — hair on the legs. It might really be a dead body. He picked up his radio and tried to contact his supervisor, Kurt Nielsen. But park after nearby park that he radioed didn't answer. It was, after all, closing time in the dead of winter. And it was past time for Nielsen to be off duty.
Brewster finally reached a familiar voice at Hippie Hollow, a local nude beach. "Please page park zero-three-one," he said, consciously calm, not wanting to arouse reaction from civilians who scanned the airwaves for entertainment. "Please page my supervisor, Kurt Nielsen. We have a law enforcement incident." He wanted to say "emergency," but he wasn't about to — not with civilians listening.
"I'm being escorted to the scene, and I really need to talk to Nielsen in five minutes. Send him whatever page you can, right now. Whatever's quickest. We have a law enforcement incident."
His repetition of "law enforcement incident" grabbed the attention of park supervisors in Austin, who were listening to the broadcast as it bounced more than thirty miles, from tower to tower, over limestone hills, between scrub oaks and cedar trees, on channel six.
The county's top supervisor jumped on the radio. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
Before Brewster could answer, Nielsen called, "What's up?"
"Park zero-three-one, go to one," replied Brewster, telling Nielsen to go to channel one, which afforded them more privacy as it wasn't bounced throughout the county. "I'm following a guy who says he's seen a dead body. We're driving down the entrance to Kate's and Johnson's coves right now. It may be a false alarm. I'll let you know in two or three minutes. Just monitor your radio."
Nielsen called the Travis County Sheriffs Office.
It was about 5:50 P.M, still light, and easy to see. Brewster studied the terrain as he drove. He didn't spot anything until he was thirty to forty yards from the cove. Then he saw only a large object that looked like a trash bag lying in a fire ring. It certainly didn't strike him as a body.
He pulled up on a dirt road. As he made his final approach to the campsite, he spotted a left arm sticking up high in the air, with no hand. Oh, this isn't a body. It probably is a mannequin. It looked so unlike a human. Then he almost laughed to himself. At least it's not a dead deer.
Brewster pulled to within ten to fifteen feet of the fire ring. Legs protruded from the ring, lifelike and muscular. Inside the ring, resting on a large, flat rock, was the torso, which lay on its back. Brewster stared at the legs again. Something struck a nerve in him.
He parked. He started to get out of his vehicle. He'd parked too close, if this was a body. Still, he wasn't one hundred percent sure it was a body. The upper torso looked plastic.
He got out and walked to the body's left side and stood one foot away. He bent down. The head and neck were incinerated to ashes. There was nothing recognizable from the shoulders up. But in the ash, he did see small, concave, ash-colored debris. Skull fragments, he supposed.
He looked at the chest. The skin didn't look human. He stared at the wrist and looked for signs of blood. There was none.
He looked at the legs, slightly bent and leaning toward the setting sun. The left leg was bruised, and the left foot was bruised and swollen, freshly bruised.
He saw pubic hair peeking out from the burned-into-tatters underwear. This is human. This is real. Oh, no, I've just walked into a crime scene. It's up to me not to disturb anything, he thought.
Brewster planted his feet firmly and noticed exactly where he stood. He stood for only twenty seconds and took one more good look at the body to make sure it had been human. Memorize where you walked, he told himself.
He turned around and walked back to his vehicle, making sure he took the same path to his truck as he had to the body.
Register had already turned around his van, as if ready to leave. He walked over to Brewster. "What do you think?"
Brewster radioed Nielsen. "We need law enforcement." He faced Register. "We need you to hang around and talk to law enforcement."
"No, I really need to be going," Register said as his three-year-old son bawled. "He's very upset."
"We need you to stay."
"I want to leave." Register glanced toward his van, almost as if he were at a funeral home.
"But you found the body. They'll want to talk to you."
"I'll be staying inside the park. You can find me," he insisted. "I'll be at Mudd Cove."
Brewster listened to the cries of Register's son. He thought about how the ashes looked cold. The killer was obviously gone. Mudd Cove was just five minutes away. "You've got to at least give me your driver's license," he answered. "I've got to at least be able to identify you."
"Will you walk over to my van to write down the information?" Register said. "Talk to me within earshot of my son and talk to me about it just being a mannequin."
They did, and Register's three-year-old son wailed, "But I saw the legs. But I saw the hair on his legs!"
"Oh, no," said Brewster, his stomach squeezing tight with anxiety for the child. "They do this a lot. Don't worry about it. It just looks real."
Moments later, Travis County Sheriffs officer Chuck Register was gone, and Brewster was left writing down the van's license plate number as the witness drove away.
He turned up his radio. TCSO was en route. EMS was en route. His job, now, he knew, was to protect the crime scene, despite the urge to play detective.
He forced himself to stand only at his vehicle door. Where are the hands? Staying put, he scanned the campground for hands. He saw, maybe, some litter. Gee, I'm handling this well, he thought. I've got my emotions under control. I'm gonna act professionally.
Brewster reminded himself again to simply protect the crime scene. He stared over at the body.
After five long minutes of Brewster's staring at the mutilated body, Kurt Nielsen pulled up and parked next to him. "Mutilated" wasn't a fact Brewster had relayed.
Nielsen got out of his car to look. Shaken, he said, "This is bad." From the left, he walked up to the body. "We need to back up our vehicles to the road."
They moved their vehicles thirty feet away, canceled Pedernales EMS, the closest volunteer unit, and STARflight. Rescue AID 16 from nearby Highways 620 and 71 was still on its way without lights and sirens.
"Why don't we replace AID sixteen with the medical examiner?" Brewster suggested.
Dispatch insisted that EMS make the pronouncement.
At 6:05 P.M., in downtown Austin, Travis County Sheriffs sergeant Timothy Gage directed Detectives Manuel Mancias Jr. and Mark Sawa to respond to Pace Bend Park. Sawa left first, to service his vehicle; Mancias drove toward the park.
Despite the cancel call, Pedernales was still on its way to Pace Bend. When Brewster looked up to see the Pedernales EMS truck driving down the dirt road, he realized they'd forgotten to block off the entrance to the cove. "Kurt," he called.
Nielsen flagged down the EMS team thirty yards from the scene. Shortly after, Brewster handed Nielsen Chuck Register's driver's license and license plate numbers. He drove Nielsen's vehicle to his post at the park gate so that he could escort the sheriffs deputies to the crime scene. It was about 6:10 P.M., just forty minutes since he had decided to take a relaxing patrol through his park.
In the solitude, Michael Brewster wondered, What's the world coming to?
At 6:15 P.M., the first official Travis County Sheriffs deputy arrived at Pace Bend. Park Ranger Kurt Nielsen immediately turned the scene over to Officer Don Rios. Rios, who took his own quick look at the deceased, noticed that the genital area had been burned.
Five minutes later, Austin EMS unit AID 16 arrived. They, too, observed the scene, then contacted Brackenridge Hospital. At 6:30 P.M., the mutilated- and-burned white-male homicide victim was pronounced dead.
Mancias believed he was headed to a routine homicide. As he drove, the investigator was told, "The hands of the deceased were removed." He knew then this case would be different.
At 6:55 P.M., Brewster greeted Mancias at the park gate and recounted how he'd learned of the body. Like Ranger Nielsen before him, Mancias suddenly had "this is bad" painted on his face.
Sergeant Gage arrived, and the park ranger led the two officers 3.4 miles into the park, wound them between trees and campsites, then stopped near the Lake Travis shore and picnic table 117.
Gage was a tattooed Marlboro Light smoker who only recently had begun working the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and now was the unit's supervisor. Mancias was a handsome, physically fit, immaculately groomed detective with starched shirts and tight jeans who loved golf and referred to cigarettes as cancer sticks.
Gage and Mancias got out of their vehicles and took a quick look at the victim. It was even more gruesome than they'd imagined, as though the killer had purposely put his victim on display.
"Ritualistic," was whispered. "Who would do such a thing?" was said out loud. "Why would they cut someone's hands off?"
But the detectives knew why the hands were missing — the perpetrator had done it to hide the victim's identity.
"What kind of person can sit there and cut off somebody's hands?"
They began making field notes while waiting for the crime lab technicians. They noted the position of the body and how far it rested from the lapping water's edge. They wondered if they had multiple victims. The word "ritualistic" came up again.
Mancias shook his head. In truth, at this point, they just didn't know what they had. How could anyone have done such a thing? It was a thought that would not leave their minds.
Within an hour and a half, all necessary personnel were on the scene and the investigation began. Yellow crime tape was up. Sawa was on the scene, as was the county sheriff and captain. Gage had designated Mancias as the lead detective.
Mancias asked Sawa to track down Chuck Register. Sawa and Nielsen left together to find him, stopping first at Nielsen's house to pick up the park ranger's children. He didn't want them home alone, in the park. Pace Bend just had something different in the air that January night. And it wasn't something anyone liked.
Crime Lab Technician Tracy Hill lit the area with a generator-powered spotlight. She and Gage searched the area in a clockwise direction. They placed black plates painted with white numerals around tire tracks, plastic bags, and footprints.
She photographed the scene with both a still camera and video camera. As she moved her lens around the fire ring, picnic tables, and trees, the night was pitch-dark and deathly silent. A flashlight rudely pointed out the evidence and her body cast a haunting shadow on the corpse.
Nielsen left his children with Brewster. Register still had his frightened child with him.
The officers listened carefully as Register quietly spoke. "I saw what I thought was hair on the legs, toenails on the feet, and underwear." He talked about the missing hands, the missing head, the charred black body with the pale white legs. "No," he said, "I didn't touch anything." Neither, he said, did Ranger Brewster.
Mancias approached the dead body. He studied its burned maroon briefs and noticed a burned T-shirt with the word "cowboy" printed across the front. There were other letters, but they were burned away.
A four-to-six-inch piece of blackened firewood rested like a necklace in the neck or chin area — or what should have been the neck and chin area. Like the face and skull, both were missing.
The burned right arm bent inward at the elbow toward the body. Underneath that arm, another piece of burned firewood rested against the right rib area.
Mancias glanced to the side of the fire ring. A piece of unburned firewood, still in its plastic store-wrapping, lay just four feet away.
The left upraised arm, which seemed to call for help, propped itself against the metal ring of the firepit. Mancias stared harder at that left arm. There were serrated cuts on its exposed bone; ligature marks appeared around the wrist area. The lack of blood indicated that the mutilation had probably occurred after the young man was dead.
The detective's gaze traveled back to the stomach, which was scorched, possibly from the burning shirt, and discolored, definitely by the flames.
He again studied the underwear. Around the left genital area and right hip, the briefs were partially burned into tatters. Around the left hip, they were burned to nonexistence.
But not a hair on the legs was burned. There was a one-inch bruise on the right leg. There appeared to be transferred blood on the left leg, but no burns. The bare feet were clean — even the soles were spotless. The toenails were perfectly clipped.
Mancias stared at the buttocks, which rested on the large flat rock. The rock elevated the hips three or four inches above the torso, almost like the body had tried to lift itself above the fire and away from the flames. The burn marks streaked from the torso to the pelvis.
Mancias stood and looked around the body. There was string near the right leg. Dribbles of bright blue plastic, almost like Mardi Gras beads, lay on the rock beneath the body and in the dirt beneath the left leg.
Gage discovered a white comforter and a black, blue, and gray sleeping bag in a fifty-five-gallon trash barrel close to another picnic table, a trash barrel next to an oak tree and sixty feet from the body. Blood soaked both the comforter and sleeping bag. The amount of blood stunned Gage.
The comforter, sleeping bag, and trash barrel were bagged for evidence by Hill.
The media were about to swarm like fire ants in heat, and Park Ranger Michael Brewster was ordered to protect the entrance to the cove from the press, while still watching Nielsen's children.
He loaded the kids into Nielsen's vehicle, drove to the entrance of Kate's and Johnson's coves, and blocked the entrance with the vehicle. One moment he fielded excited questions from the kids. The next moment he fielded excited questions from the media. To all, he tried to give vague answers. The kids were less persistent than the media.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wages Of Sin"
Copyright © 2000 Suzy Spencer.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Yes. This book rocks. Every page in filled with the play by play action that took place here in Austin, TX. This book will make you think twice about the people you are in love with. How, someone you can love so much, could also take advantage of you to the point of murder. This is awesome....Suzy, you have ton a wonderful job for something that was so tragic.
I know 'page turner' is a cliche, but this book is no cliche. It is one page-turning, hot read that kept me glued with its great story, taut writing and strong characterizations. One of my favorite lines was the description of blood slapped between layers of paint on the walls like spaghetti sauce slapped between two pieces of bread. This is one dynamic writer!
Spencer writes with a masterful blend of suspense and compassion. Clear characterizations and superb storytelling make this story one you can't put down until the very last page. READ THIS BOOK, especially if you like the true crime genre.
Like Spencer's 'Wasted,' this new one is a glue-you-to-your-seat page turner. But 'Wages of Sin' is even more chilling than its predecessor. Spencer has a flair for describing love stories that degenerate into murder, and this time she has turned the spotlight of her talent on a Texas stripper and her boyfriend. Watch out -- this one will keep you up late.
Liked the book until the author attemted to analyze the demons who killed this poor boy. She may have been charmed by Martin during the interviews. Very unseemly and doesnt leave me wanting to read more from this author if thats her MO.
THIS WAS AN AWESOME BOOK, AND WELL WORTH YOUR TIME. IT WAS ALMOST LIKE A MOVIE CAUSE THE ENDING WILL TAKE YOU BY SURPRISE..........THIS AUTHOR HAS YET AGAIN PRODUCED ANOTHER ALL NIGHTER. WASTED WAS JUST AS GOOD AND I LOOK FORWARD TO READING MORE OF HER WORK.
Sorry, I don't mean to be critical here, but the writing could have been a lot better. The story was there, however I lost interest about half way through the book when the author began giving me the same information over and over again. Also, there are some errors in the book that could have been corrected if the author would have done her homework and talked with a homicide detective.
First of all I would like to say, 'Wages of Sin' is an indepth look at the misfortune of one's love. I would like to add that I was introduced to 'Wages of Sin' by Stephanie Lynn Martin herself. I have been corresponding with her via mail for the past 2 years. Through the mail I have received, I find she is a very Kind, Caring, and Loving Lady that was decieved by a COWARD of a man. Thank you Suzy Spencer for allowing Steph to share her side of the accounts of the events that had taken place. I hope one day Stephanie can have her freedom and family back in her life, but most of all I long for the day that we will be together.***Suzy, if you read my review I want it to be known to YOU and OTHERS out there, that Stephanie Lynn Martin has a heart of gold, and soul of an ANGEL.Sincerely,Randall L. Dowty